With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

ACF 1530; Happy Birthday, LEE Chang-Dong

Director LEE Chang-dong and me at Asia Society, NY in 2008

Writer and director LEE Chang-dong was born on July 4th, 1954 in Daegu, South Korea. Previously a high-school teacher and acclaimed novelist, his entered the film industry with screenplays to two films by Park Kwang-su: To the Starry Island (1993) and A Single Spark (1995).

Encouraged by his contemporaries, Lee made his directorial debut with Green Fish (1997), the story of a young man who enters the Korean criminal underworld. Peppermint Candy, told in a series of flashback segments, followed in 2000. With his third film, Oasis (2002), he firmly established himself on the world cinema stage. He took a hiatus from film beginning in 2003, serving as Minister of Culture in a newly elected liberal administration. He returned  with a vengeance in his next film, the harrowing Secret Sunshine (2007), and followed that with the touching Poetry (2010).

JEON Do-yeon and LEE Chang-dong
Director LEE has won numerous awards and been nominated for a number of others. These wins have come in such categories as best film, director, and screenplay. His actors, especially his actresses, have also reaped recognition from appearing in his films. MOON So-ri won several best actress awards for her role as Gong-ju, a young woman with cerebral palsy, in Oasis, as did JEON Do-yeon for her portrayal of a grief-stricken mother in Secret Sunshine.

Oasis was the first of director LEE's films that I saw, and I was haunted by it for days afterwards. It was such a powerful a story and had two amazing lead performances by Ms. Moon as Gong-ju and SOL Kyung-gu as Jong-du, a young man with significantly limited intellect. Since then I caught up with his two earlier films and have seen the two more recent ones as they came out.

I regard LEE as one of the absolute greats in world cinema. Having come to film somewhat later in life than is usual, he has not produced a vast body of work, but every film he has made has been either very good (Green Fish) or magnificent (at least Oasis and Secret Sunshine; Poetry, if not magnificent, is pretty close).

So Happy Birthday wishes to you, Director LEE! I so look forward to your next film.

[For my E-interview with LEE Chang-dong, which p;osted in May 2008, click here.]

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